10 Tips to help your child with their college search

10 Tips to help your child with their college search

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Education Counselor Sara Bittner from LAUNCH Education Advisors provides tips parents should keep in mind when helping their children apply to college.

The college search has the potential to be a fun journey that brings families together, or a battle to the finish line that leaves family relationships in tatters. Make sure your experience is a positive one by following these tips.

1. Use reminders to move the process along

We encourage the use of gentle or friendly reminders. None of the below require you to do work for your child, as they instead actively encourage them to complete the process independently with assistance when necessary.

  • Would you like to do it yourself, or have me help you?
  • I need you to _____________.
  • How will you take care of ____________?
  • I love you no matter what.
  • You care, so I'd love for you to decide.

2. Discuss financial boundaries early

While financial discussions are often difficult, financial expectations on both the student and parent sides matter when building a school list. The more information your child has, the more informed a decision they make when building their list. If you have a hard budget for school each year, be honest about what you can(not) afford. Never put yourself in a position to make unethical decisions to qualify for financial aid.

3. Empower your child

Succeeding at college / university requires a level of independence from students. They will have to make decisions without your input. Prepare for this newfound independence prior to their departure by encouraging them to:

  • Conduct their own research
  • Talk with admissions staff
  • Ask for help in secondary school
  • Study for the ACT / SAT, if applicable

And ultimately, respect their decisions. You may not always agree, but at least they are making a decision.

4. Actively listen to your child’s concerns, comments, and priorities

Through the process, you may not agree with your child, but your perspective should never overshadow theirs. This is a chance for you to build a trusting relationship, and truly hearing their perspective is critical to a productive school search. They will be attending class and be on the school’s campus for two to four years.

5. Keep an open mind

College / university admissions have changed drastically since the 1980-90s. The only constant is change, so put your perceptions about universities aside. Encourage other trusted adults to do the same. Remember, rankings change, a junior college is a good option, and dual enrollment courses can save money. If you are unsure about remaining impartial, hiring an independent education consultant can provide clarity for your family.

6. Put the rankings aside

While rankings provide a starting point, they should not be the sole basis of your child’s search. Encourage your child to consider a broad range of schools, not just the top 50. The allure of a top-ranking school may sound appealing, but you must consider if it is the right place for your child. Remember, bragging rights should not take precedence over best fit.

7. Designate times to discuss

Too often, families let the college / university search process consume their everyday lives. To minimise the impact of the search on family time, set aside a designated time every week to discuss the search and application process. By doing so, you can compartmentalise the process and enjoy life.

8. Respect your child’s budding adulthood

During this time, your child will want to express themselves, their independence, and establish who they aspire to become. They may ask for advice and approval, but be sure to let them show their gifts and talents to the world. Three important things we encourage parents to understand are:

  • Do not edit their application essay. Ever.
  • Some students will not share their essay with you.
  • Do not compare your child to an older sibling who has already completed their search.

9. Stay positive

When your child’s emotions are up and down, they need you to be positive and encouraging. Your child is human and will make mistakes (including missing deadlines). Mistakes will have natural consequences, but do not define who they are. Emphasise that perfection is unattainable, and making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Fear of failure is common and might manifest in hesitance to take rigorous coursework or standardised tests. Acknowledge their fears. Your child has a right to be nervous, scared, or unsure. What they need is a calm and secure environment to recuperate when the process is too much for them. Celebrate the deadlines they meet, the hurdles they cross, and the independence they assert.

10. Be happy with their decision

A college / university that was a great fit for you may not be the right fit for your child. By forcing your beliefs on your child, they may choose to agree with you to earn your approval.

Your alma mater, warm weather, or the best sports team might be great for you, but not for your child. At the end of the day, your child has to attend classes, interact with classmates and professors, attend social events, make daily decisions, navigate course selections, meet with advisors, attend study halls and tutoring, spend late nights in the library, etc. A campus should allow them to blossom into the best version of themselves and provide them with a launchpad for their future.

LAUNCH Education Advisors is passionate about guiding families through the complex university admissions process. Contact them for a free consultation today!

Sara Bittner


Sara Bittner

Sara is a co-founder of LAUNCH education consultants as well as a guidance and communcy coach. She specializes in American east-coast schools, student athletes, expat and third culture families, and...

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